Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Russell delivers in style

Published:Sunday | February 1, 2015 | 12:01 AM
file Man of the Match, Andre Russell (right) and teammate Sheldon Cottrell, celebrate their victory over South Africa on January 25.

As it was in the Test matches in South Africa, so it was in the one-day 50-over version of the game: it was a one-horse race.

The West Indies won the T20 encounter 2-1 after losing the Test matches 2-0. Then South Africa easily won the one-day contest 4-1 to drive home their superiority.

In losing the one-day contest, the West Indies lost the second match by conceding three world records.

The first world record was the total of 439 for two, the second saw three batsmen scoring a century each, and the third was when one of the batsmen, captain AB de Villiers, cracked a century off 31 deliveries in an innings of 149 off 44 deliveries.

The dominance of South Africa was fully evident when, with three deliveries to go in that match, the score was 439 for one. With number-four batsmen David Miller failing to score a run off the last two deliveries, it meant that all of South Africa's runs came from three batsmen.

The innings by de Villiers, however, was one to remember forever, and one the like of which we may never see again.

It is because of that innings, because of the presence of batsmen Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, because of all-rounder JP Duminy, and because of fast-bowlers Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, and Vernon Philander why South Africa are rated as one of the favourites to win the World Cup.

The most heartening innings to me, as a West Indian, however, came in the fourth match, the one which the West Indies won by one wicket, and it came from the bat of all-rounder AndrĂˆ Russell.

Russell is a big man, he is athletic, he is known as a big hitter, he can bowl medium-pace, somewhat, and he can also field, and brilliantly so.

To me, however, in spite of his power, he was never really a batsman, or even a batting all-rounder in the higher levels of the game. He was, again to me, simply a hit-or-miss tail-ender. In fact, I seldom knew how to refer to him - whether as a bowling all-rounder, or as a batting all-rounder.

On Sunday last, Russell went to bat in Port Elizabeth, the score was 166 for six after 36.1 overs, the West Indies needed 97 off 83 deliveries, with four wickets in hand, to win the match; and after some anxious moments, including the unfortunate dismissals of Marlon Samuels and captain Jason Holder, and then the run-out of Carlos Brathwaite at 239

for nine off 48.1 overs, he proceeded to deliver a priceless innings in no uncertain manner.

seven runs for victory

He smashed left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso for two sixes off consecutive deliveries and, in the following over, with seven runs needed for victory, he drove Kyle Abbott sweetly to the boundary and dropped the next delivery beyond the long-on boundary.

In quick time, off 40 deliveries, he smashed and stroked an undefeated 64 not out with five fours and five sixes.

It was batting worthy of a batsman - a solid and capable batsman at that. It was an innings to remember, not as much as that of de Villiers, but one in which he selected his shots well; one in which, probably, a batsman was born.

From the moment he walked to the wicket, there appeared a look on his face to suggest that he meant business, and when he reached forward and tapped his first delivery for a single, it was obvious he meant business.

Samuels scored 68 off 93 deliveries before him; and Darren Sammy, 51 off 52 deliveries, also batting before him. While Samuels was his usual cool self and striking the ball sometimes beautifully and sometimes powerfully, and Sammy, in his signature style, clobbered it to and over the boundary, Russell dismissed it from his presence with a bearing bordering on arrogance.

Normally, but for a few innings, he has gone to the wicket, hit a few fours and one or two sixes, and returned to the pavilion many a time without contributing to the efforts of the West Indies.

On Sunday, however, he came of age, probably, and he batted with confidence and authority. In other words, he batted sensibly, he played each ball on merit, and he batted as if the team depended on him, and on him alone.

More than that: his stroke play was copybook and polished but powerful. There was no swinging, no losing his balance, and no looking amateurish. It was simply a joy to see as he addressed each delivery nicely and stroked it away to the boundary.

It was, apart from Morne Morkel, not South Africa's best attack, and on top of that, he failed to repeat that performance in the last match. He may, however, have been preparing for the World Cup which starts in another two weeks' time.